A 3-Part Guide To Airport Thrillers (3)
The airport thriller was transmuted, first by the supernatural, through Stephen King’s immense and seemingly unedited doorstops, then by one other global phenomenon. There’s a simple clarity to the No.1 airport thriller writer’s storytelling, too, but that’s because Dan Brown can’t write any other way.
Mr Brown is entirely beyond parody, as demonstrated by numerous club-footed reviews mimicking his style. His chases around the world’s libraries and churches to uncover secret manuscripts have been parsed for their historical inaccuracy and his prose has been eviscerated for its poverty, but this is to miss the point.
Brown does have a style, which is more than many authors have. He makes readers turn pages and he’s fun to read, albeit in the same way that you’d watch a viral video of a drunk Russian falling over a railing. More to the point, there have always been writers like him. Even the tone-deaf singer Florence Foster Jenkins had fans because she was entertaining. The real sin of bad writing is being boring and Mr Brown is certainly never that, but he does commit the equal-weight-to-every-detail sin on just about every page, and ‘Origin’ is just about the worst thriller ever written.
There are intellectual writers whose prose is so parenthesised that the act of reading them is like repeatedly stubbing your toe. Brown’s cat-sat-on-the-mat-which-was-woven-in-Istanbul-the-capital-of-Turkey prose is almost deliberately artless. What’s more, any writer who can trick the Vatican into responding to a piece of pulp fiction does not deserve quite the level of critical opprobrium Brown has endured. Here’s one example from The Week worth quoting;
Brown thinks that a “classicist” is someone who likes old things rather than a scholar of classical languages, that Harvard professors of subjects real or imaginary say things like “Nostradamus was the most famous prognosticator of all time,” that it would cost untold billions to create a computer with the epoch-making ability to tell you what the Dow closed at on August 23, 1974, that there exists a “priceless manuscript,” as opposed to a paperback book, entitled The Complete Works of William Blake, or that this or any manuscript has standard page numbers.
There has always been an air of snobbery around writers, evinced by the dismissive attitude of a tiny coterie of critics and booksellers. Some things are implicitly understood; you don’t eat crisps at the opera and you never admit that an author beloved by the intelligentsia leaves you cold. For millions of readers, tales of adventure and romance were once the only way of escaping a grimmer reality. Is that so wrong? Dan Brown wrote a tremendously successful pulp novel that encouraged argument about the veracity of religion, just as Michael Crichton got readers believing that mosquitos could lead to reconstructing dinosaurs.
There are still books you tend to only see at airports. Harry Potter is finally on the wane after having an extraordinary run – Ms Rowling’s books dropped from the UK top ten children’s list for the first time last month – and a crime writer called Peter Robinson seems to have got himself into almost every airport bookshop I’ve ever stepped inside (anyone read him?).
But the day of the blockbuster has ended – until it reinvents itself. Until then, Alistair MacLean’s novels are back in print.